- Paperback: 338 pages
- Publisher: Encounter Books,USA; New edition edition (1 Jan. 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1893554120
- ISBN-13: 978-1893554122
- Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 14.6 x 22.2 cm
- Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 581,019 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Killing of History: How Literary Critics and Social Theorists are Murdering Our Past Paperback – 1 Jan 2000
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About the Author
Top Customer Reviews
Besides taking on those who would deny the value of empirical history, Windschuttle deconstructs the decontsructionists.
Whilst the work of any human is always open to improvement, Keith Windschuttlle deserves the garlands and praise of students throughout the world - students who have had to bite their lips whilst the noble pursuit of historical truth has been perverted into yet another turgid, theoretical social science.
G A F Connolly
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)
Windschuttle begins by noting that the tendency for historians to acknowledge the very real baneful influences of prejudice, ideology, and bias have been self-acknowledged since classical Greece times. Yet, most history writers assumed that they could control these biases while still admitting that there were truly universal concepts like truth, justice, and facts. He adds that the first doubters were the 18th and 19th century philosophers like Nietzche, Hegel, Hume, and Marx. The real problem, he believes began with what he terms the "Paris Labels and Designer Concepts" of such poststructuralists as Derrida, Foucault, and Althusser, all of whom trashed the very notion of the existence of absolutes and replaced them with a basically anything goes methodology of writing history in which the line between fiction and fact becomes intentionally blurred so that the marginalized voices of the tongueless victims of what these postmoderns term a racist cabal of hated and self-hating Western ideologues may find voice.
Windschuttle considers the lamentable practice of writing history under the microscope of such divergent theories as semiotics, structuralism, poststructuralism, anti-humanism, posthistory, postmodernism, relativism, hermeneutics, induction, and even fiction, all of which share a common base in their reckless disregard of acknowledging how literal truth ought to occupy central stage in the writing of history. Windshuttle's favored tactic is to examine how representative theorists of relativism view specific historical events under the lens of their respective ideologies. He targets Cortez in Mexico, Cook in Hawaii, and the Aborignes of Australia. In each case, he uses the very words of the authors to undermine and demolish their premises. Without exception, all these relativist writers manifest a desire to expose what they deem as the not so latent racist underpinnings of western civilization so as to provide a voice of the marginalized. Windschuttle instead cleverly turns their argument that western culture is racist on its head by noting that the reverse is far more likely true.
The breadth of learning and erudition in THE KILLING OF HISTORY is astounding. Windschuttle's chapter of the discourses of Michel Foucault is the best that I have ever read. His closing comments in the Afterword succintly summarize his fear that the killing of his title is one that is not likely to go away anytime soon. THE KILLING OF HISTORY is required reading for anyone who wonders whether what they read in a history book is fact or fiction.
Windschuttle divides his book into chapters dealing with specific theories--"killers" of history--and how they treat a given topic from history. For instance, the chapter on semiotics, the study of "signs" and the significance of cultural gestures, treats the conquest of the Aztecs. The chapter on structuralism discusses the mutiny on the Bounty and the murder of Captain Cook. In each chapter, Windschuttle lets a popular representative of each opposing theory make a case, and then masterfully tears it down with a mix of fact, logical argument, and common sense. And in a surprising number of cases, the arguments of Windschuttle's opponents collapse when they are proven not wrongheaded, but false, as in a nonexistent Chinese taxonomical work cited by Foucault.
This topic is particularly near and dear to my heart. A surprising number of students, even at the university level, come to me with notions of history that are often entirely incorrect but were instilled in them by zealous, ideologically-driven teachers in high school or university. One that repeatedly crops up--in the book and in my own experiences--is the idea of cultural relativity. Windschuttle's book points out the errors in much of modern "historical" work and suggests that traditional Western history, as developed by the Greeks and perfected over the course of 2400 years, has succeeded because it is the best way to view history.
The best thing about Windschuttle's book is that he has chosen to write for a general audience. If you were intimidated by the ideas in my first paragraph, have no fear--Windschuttle has very carefully aimed to explain and clarify even the most complex problems posed by his enemies (which is not too strong a word in this context, I'm sure). That's not to say there aren't dense passages--the chapter on Michel Foucault is particularly tough reading--but Windschuttle's intention all along is to be a clear and forthright as possible, rather than hide behind a cloud of jargon like his opponents.
If you're looking for a set of good arguments against postmodernist, structuralist, or any "killer" of traditional history, this book is the place to start.
He meant Samuel Johnson, of course, of whom Boswell wrote, "Accustom your children constantly to this; if a thing happened at one window, and they, when relating it, say that it happened at another, do not let it pass, but instantly check them; you do not know where deviation from truth will end." On the other end of the spectrum, regarding historical facts lies Nietzsche, who argued, "There are no facts, only interpretations."
In the nine years since Kimball's excellent review ran, the general view of history and historical facts has only degenerated further. I have seen in countless critiques of my own work, for example, that recalling historical facts will only rekindle the hatreds of the past. Of course, the opposite is true: recalling the past, and the facts of history, is an important, indeed, critical antidote to hatreds, as they offer the only sure way of avoiding the errors of bygone eras.
If we refuse to acknowledge those errors, we are consigned to repeating them. And today, with so much emphasis placed on the importance of relative "narratives" and so little emphasis placed on facts, knowledge itself--and all the libraries that secure it--stands highly at risk.
This book is a fantastic and much needed treatment for the disease of relativism. Not only does it offer myriad details on the various schools of thought that have brought us to the current desperate pass, but it contains a stunning set of historical facts as well.
One learns for example a bit about the Aztecs' conquest by Cortes, the mutiny on the HMS Bounty in 1789, French deconstructionist Michel Focault, and the end of the cold war in 1989. Windschuttle uses those pieces of data to illustrate his points.
Today one risk one runs "in defending anything traditional is to be seen simply as a knee-jerk reactionary," he writes, "a middle aged academic defending the remnants of his own intellectual capital" while holding the fort against younger ideologues. But that reaction is a dead letter, as the vast majority of professors pushing "the new humanities" have entered their forties or fifties, and many of the Continental gurus that floated these history-bashing ideas are "already dead."
No, the truth and history are at stake. Windschuttle makes a great case for studying the "old-fashioned" facts. Let us hope that a majority in the professoriate soon see the light of his wisdom.
--Alyssa A. Lappen